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Smokers, The
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by Chris Parry

"Purely, utterly, absolutely awful. The bottom rung of filmmaking."
1 stars

Christina Peters once worked as assitant to director Todd Haynes on the 1995 film, Safe. Kenny Golde was supervising producer on a whole swathe of 'Intimate Portrait' TV specials about women like Christie Brinkely and Loni Anderson. Nicholas M. Loeb is a rich kid who can't act. His father can't act either. Why am I telling you all this? Because these are the people who who wrote, produced, financed and starred in one of the worst films I've seen in years - The Smokers. And just to show that all you need is a little cash to get big names to appear in just about anything, they managed to boondoggle Dominique Swain, Thora Birch, Dawson's Creek's Busy Philipps and serial demure teen, Keri Lynn Pratt into doing likewise. The result is beyond crap - it's crap dressed up as crappy art, with the kind of level of pretension and stupidity normally reserved for Manhattan dinner parties and LA nightclubs.

Jefferson (Swain), Karen (Philipps) and Lisa (Pratt) are three broads in a Middle America finishing school who call themselves The Smokers. They came up with that catchy name because, well, they smoke. Personally, I'd have labelled them the Cigarette Butts or the Mild Unfiltereds, but that's just me.

So the Cigarette Butts are all super close and hate the preppy wenches that they're surrounded by, so they do things like wear more make-up than Tammy Faye Bakker, set off fire alarms, have a lot of sex and play Russian Roulette.

Well, they don't all play Russian Roulette, but Jefferson's messed up sister, Lincoln (Thora Birch) certainly does. With five bullets in the chamber, because that's so hardcore.

When the Butts go out on the town one night and one of them gets picked up and screwed by some anonymous Chicago rich guy in the back of a limo, we're supposed to feel bad for her. Because he didn't even give her his phone number. Can you imagine? they've cultivated this fifteen minute long relationship and he won't even give her his number!

Which leads to the girls deciding that they should take Jefferson's mom's gun and use it to rape a guy. Give a little indignity back to the dudes that routinely give it to them, as it were. The only catch - other guys at school start to wear T-shirts saying 'rape me too', and thus the plan is futile.

Now, at this point you could quite conceivably say that the film has taken a turn for the better - there seems to be a point in it all. Is it possible to rape a guy when guys will do anything for sex? And even if you did, would the fact that the guy is 'inside' the girl mean that he's still the one with all the power? And how do you get a guy to keep it up at gunpoint anyway?

Sadly, The Smokers couldn't care less about the answers to any of those questions. I don't know if they used up the budget on the stars' salaries or if there simply was no budget to speak of. I don't know if Christine Peters went to film school in the time between her last film job and this one, or if she just lied and said she knew what she was doing as director. I don't know if Nicholas M. Loeb honestly thought he could act or if he really just wanted to save on a wage by making himself both co-star and producer. And I honestly don't know why his father, Ambassador John Loeb Jr (whoever that is) appears in the film, in perhaps the worst cameo role, both in terms of name recognition and acting ability, that I've ever seen.

And I don't know why Dominique Swain doesn't only look stoned throughout the film, but also in the publicity stills taken at the premiere. And I don't know why Thora Birch was made such a fuss of at film festivals for her five-minute, five line role in the film. And I don't know why people keep hiring Keri Lynn Pratt when she can not act worth a damn. even when this girl is being raped on the screen, she shows no acting ability whatsoever. To say she's one-note would be to overstate things - I don't detect a single note in her arsenal. I get the feeling she's built a career out of being the 'demure teenage girl' in every teen movie since Drive Me Crazy.

And I don't know who Dominique Swain's agent is, but they've managed to mismanage her career so completely that her name is now memorable for such classics of the screen as Lolita, Girl, The Intern, Happy Campers, Briar Patch, Mean People Suck and Pumpkin. Consider the career path of the similar looking, similarly talented Kirsten Dunst, who narrowly beat Swain out for the role of Claudia on Interview with a Vampire, and you'll see the difference between a good agent and a total hack. And any agent that would allow his people to appear in a film as patently misguided, misdirected, poorly written and dubiously intensioned as this deserves to have his or her business card burned in the town square with a crowd of angry peasants chanting 'death to the hack!'.

There isn't a single worthy thing about this film, from the awful dialogue to the tinpot sound recording to the blurry camera. Scenes where a live band plays in a bar feature sound and lips that are totally unsynched, to the point where it distracts you, and several scenes feature sound levels so up and down that you'd almost wonder if anyone bothered doing a sound mix on the film at all. Even the editing is cheap and nasty, regularly using extreme close ups that make no sense to mask a lack of coverage in the scene proper. Directing for Dummies Tip #492 - If you don't film a scene from more than one angle, you have no way or editing out the mistakes by cutting to another angle. I knew this when I was twelve year old. Christine Peters either didn't know it when she started this film, or she had a horrific lab accident that destroyed half her negative. Either way, the end result is crapperific.

The supposed climax of The Smokers is also one for the 'oh my god' books. A bathroom catches on fire and burns quickly, trapping someone inside as the room lights up in flames. Only, clearly the budget couldn't handle actually lighting a room on fire, so we're instead left with two close-ups of ash-smeared girls with flames behind them in the background. No master shot. No two-shots. No perspective at all. Throw in some stock footage of another room burning, cut back to the close-up - that's a wrap. Roger Corman couldn't have done it better...

Well, actually he could have. In a heartbeat.

Trivia sidenote: Dominique Swain has, at the time of writing, worked on three films with Dawson's Creek alum Oliver Hudson, and two films written by or produced by Kenny Golde. Your guess is as good as mine as to which of the two she's dating, and which is supplying her with substances she'll do anything to get more of. Because I just can't figure out why you'd keep associating with such talent-free folks otherwise.

Somehow this film sold to MGM, almost certainly for less than it cost, and most assuredly with nothing more than a video release in mind. It's more than the film deserves, but it does prove the old adage that any old shit will sell, as long as a hot chick is on the poster. Decrepit filmmaking, the likes of which should see at least the director, if not the producers, never hold a similar position again.

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originally posted: 01/13/04 11:45:16
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User Comments

2/27/04 Robert "I dated Busy Phillips" Pegler I used to date Busy, and had high hopes for her, but this movie is pure drivel 1 stars
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  05-Feb-2002 (R)


  14-Feb-2001 (MA)

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